Beyond the Pale by Rudyard Kipling
Love heeds not caste nor sleep a broken bed. I went in
search of love and lost myself.
A man should, whatever happens, keep to his own caste, race and breed.
Let the White go to the White and the Black to the Black. Then, whatever
trouble falls is in the ordinary course of things—neither sudden,
alien nor unexpected.
This is the story of a man who wilfully stepped beyond the safe limits
of decent everyday society, and paid for it heavily.
He knew too much in the first instance; and he saw too much in the
second. He took too deep an interest in native life; but he will never do
Deep away in the heart of the City, behind Jitha Megji's bustee,
lies Amir Nath's Gully, which ends in a dead-wall pierced by one grated
window. At the head of the Gully is a big cow-byre, and the walls on
either side of the Gully are without windows. Neither Suchet Singh nor
Gaur Chand approve of their womenfolk looking into the world. If Durga
Charan had been of their opinion, he would have been a happier man to-day,
and little Bisesa would have been able to knead her own bread. Her room
looked out through the grated window into the narrow dark Gully where the
sun never came and where the buffaloes wallowed in the blue slime. She was
a widow, about fifteen years old, and she prayed the Gods, day and night,
to send her a lover; for she did not approve of living alone.
One day, the man—Trejago his name was—came into Amir Nath's
Gully on an aimless wandering; and, after he had passed the buffaloes,
stumbled over a big heap of cattle-food.
Then he saw that the Gully ended in a trap, and heard a little laugh
from behind the grated window. It was a pretty little laugh, and Trejago,
knowing that, for all practical purposes, the old Arabian Nights
are good guides, went forward to the window, and whispered that verse of
"The Love Song of Har Dyal" which begins:
Can a man stand upright in the face of the naked Sun;
or a Lover in the Presence of his Beloved?
If my feet fail me, O Heart of my Heart, am I to blame,
being blinded by the glimpse of your beauty?
There came the faint tchink of a woman's bracelets from behind
the grating, and a little voice went on with the song at the fifth
Alas! alas! Can the Moon tell the Lotus of her love
when the Gate of Heaven is shut and the clouds gather for the
They have taken my Beloved, and driven her
with the pack-horses to the North.
There are iron chains on the feet that were set on my heart.
Call to the bowmen to make ready—
The voice stopped suddenly, and Trejago walked out of Amir Nath's
Gully, wondering who in the world could have capped "The Love Song of Har
Dyal" so neatly.
Next morning, as he was driving to office, an old woman threw a packet
into his dog-cart. In the packet was the half of a broken glass-bangle,
one flower of the blood-red dhak, a pinch of bhusa or
cattle-food, and eleven cardamoms. That packet was a letter—not a
clumsy compromising letter, but an innocent unintelligible lover's
Trejago knew far too much about these things, as I have said. No
Englishman should be able to translate object-letters. But Trejago spread
all the trifles on the lid of his office-box and began to puzzle them
A broken glass-bangle stands for a Hindu widow all India over; because,
when her husband dies, a woman's bracelets are broken on her wrists.
Trejago saw the meaning of the little bit of the glass. The flower of the
dhak means diversely "desire," "come," "write," or "danger,"
according to the other things with it. One cardamom means "jealousy"; but
when any article is duplicated in an object-letter, it loses its symbolic
meaning and stands merely for one of a number indicating time, or, if
incense, curds, or saffron be sent also, place. The message ran
then—"A widow—dhak flower and bhusa,—at
eleven o'clock." The pinch of bhusa enlightened Trejago. He
saw—this kind of letter leaves much to instinctive
knowledge—that the bhusa referred to the big heap of
cattle-food over which he had fallen in Amir Nath's Gully, and that the
message must come from the person behind the grating; she being a widow.
So the message ran then—"A widow, in the Gully in which is the heap
of bhusa, desires you to come at eleven o'clock."
Trejago threw all the rubbish into the fireplace and laughed. He knew
that men in the East do not make love under windows at eleven in the
forenoon, nor do women fix appointments a week in advance. So he went,
that very night at eleven, into Amir Nath's Gully, clad in a
boorka, which cloaks a man as well as a woman. Directly the gongs
of the City made the hour, the little voice behind the grating took up
"The Love Song of Har Dyal" at the verse where the Panthan girl calls upon
Har Dyal to return. The song is really pretty in the Vernacular. In
English you miss the wail of it. It runs something like this—
Alone upon the housetops, to the North
I turn and watch the lightning in the sky,—
The glamour of thy footsteps in the North,
Come back to me, Beloved, or I die!
Below my feet the still bazar is laid
Far, far, below the weary camels lie,—
The camels and the captives of thy raid.
Come back to me, Beloved, or I die!
My father's wife is old and harsh with years,
And drudge of all my father's house am I.—
My bread is sorrow and my drink is tears,
Come back to me, Beloved, or I die!
As the song stopped, Trejago stepped up under the grating and
whispered—"I am here."
Bisesa was good to look upon.
That night was the beginning of many strange things, and of a double
life so wild that Trejago to-day sometimes wonders if it were not all a
dream. Bisesa, or her old handmaiden who had thrown the object-letter, had
detached the heavy grating from the brick-work of the wall; so that the
window slid inside, leaving only a square of raw masonry into which an
active man might climb.
In the daytime, Trejago drove through his routine of office-work, or
put on his calling-clothes and called on the ladies of the Station;
wondering how long they would know him if they knew of poor little Bisesa.
At night, when all the City was still, came the walk under the
evil-smelling boorka, the patrol through Jitha Megji's
bustee, the quick turn into Amir Nath's Gully between the sleeping
cattle and the dead walls, and then, last of all, Bisesa, and the deep,
even breathing of the old woman who slept outside the door of the bare
little room that Durga Charan allotted to his sister's daughter. Who or
what Durga Charan was, Trejago never inquired; and why in the world he was
not discovered and knifed never occurred to him till his madness was over,
and Bisesa ... But this comes later.
Bisesa was an endless delight to Trejago. She was as ignorant as a
bird; and her distorted versions of the rumors from the outside world that
had reached her in her room, amused Trejago almost as much as her lisping
attempts to pronounce his name—"Christopher." The first syllable was
always more than she could manage, and she made funny little gestures with
her roseleaf hands, as one throwing the name away, and then, kneeling
before Trejago, asked him, exactly as an Englishwoman would do, if he were
sure he loved her. Trejago swore that he loved her more than any one else
in the world. Which was true.
After a month of this folly, the exigencies of his other life compelled
Trejago to be especially attentive to a lady of his acquaintance. You may
take it for a fact that anything of this kind is not only noticed and
discussed by a man's own race but by some hundred and fifty natives as
well. Trejago had to walk with this lady and talk to her at the
Band-stand, and once or twice to drive with her; never for an instant
dreaming that this would affect his dearer, out-of-the-way life. But the
news flew, in the usual mysterious fashion, from mouth to mouth, till
Bisesa's duenna heard of it and told Bisesa. The child was so troubled
that she did the household work evilly, and was beaten by Durga Charan's
wife in consequence.
A week later, Bisesa taxed Trejago with the flirtation. She understood
no gradations and spoke openly. Trejago laughed and Bisesa stamped her
little feet—little feet, light as marigold flowers, that could lie
in the palm of a man's one hand.
Much that is written about Oriental passion and impulsiveness is
exaggerated and compiled at second-hand, but a little of it is true; and
when an Englishman finds that little, it is quite as startling as any
passion in his own proper life. Bisesa raged and stormed, and finally
threatened to kill herself if Trejago did not at once drop the alien
Memsahib who had come between them. Trejago tried to explain, and
to show her that she did not understand these things from a Western
standpoint. Bisesa drew herself up, and said simply—
"I do not. I know only this—it is not good that I should have
made you dearer than my own heart to me, Sahib. You are an
Englishman. I am only a black girl"—she was fairer than bar-gold in
the Mint,—"and the widow of a black man."
Then she sobbed and said—"But on my soul and my Mother's soul, I
love you. There shall no harm come to you, whatever happens to me."
Trejago argued with the child, and tried to soothe her, but she seemed
quite unreasonably disturbed. Nothing would satisfy her save that all
relations between them should end. He was to go away at once. And he went.
As he dropped out of the window, she kissed his forehead twice, and he
walked home wondering.
A week, and then three weeks, passed without a sign from Bisesa.
Trejago, thinking that the rupture had lasted quite long enough, went down
to Amir Nath's Gully for the fifth time in the three weeks, hoping that
his rap at the sill of the shifting grating would be answered. He was not
There was a young moon, and one stream of light fell down into Amir
Nath's Gully, and struck the grating which was drawn away as he knocked.
From the black dark, Bisesa held out her arms into the moonlight. Both
hands had been cut off at the wrists, and the stumps were nearly
Then, as Bisesa bowed her head between her arms and sobbed, some one in
the room grunted like a wild beast, and something sharp—knife,
sword, or spear,—thrust at Trejago in his boorka. The stroke
missed his body, but cut into one of the muscles of the groin, and he
limped slightly from the wound for the rest of his days.
The grating went into its place. There was no sign whatever from inside
the house,—nothing but the moonlight strip on the high wall, and the
blackness of Amir Nath's Gully behind.
The next thing Trejago remembers, after raging and shouting like a
madman between those pitiless walls, is that he found himself near the
river as the dawn was breaking, threw away his boorka and went home
* * * * *
What was the tragedy—whether Bisesa had, in a fit of causeless
despair, told everything, or the intrigue had been discovered and she
tortured to tell; whether Durga Charan knew his name and what became of
Bisesa—Trejago does not know to this day. Something horrible had
happened, and the thought of what it must have been, comes upon Trejago in
the night now and again, and keeps him company till the morning. One
special feature of the case is that he does not know where lies the front
of Durga Charan's house. It may open on to a courtyard common to two or
more houses, or it may lie behind any one of the gates of Jitha Megji's
bustee. Trejago cannot tell. He cannot get Bisesa—poor little
Bisesa—back again. He has lost her in the City where each man's
house is as guarded and as unknowable as the grave; and the grating that
opens into Amir Nath's Gully has been walled up.
But Trejago pays his calls regularly, and is reckoned a very decent
sort of man.
There is nothing peculiar about him, except a slight stiffness, caused
by a riding-strain, in the right leg.